19 SEPTEMBER 2014 ISSUE
SCOTLAND: WHAT NEXT?
*After the referendum, nothing will be the same again*
JASON COWLEY WRITES FROM EDINBURGH
ALAN TAYLOR: HOW I SAVED AND LOST THE UNION
ANDREW MARR ON MOB RULE AND BAD REVIEWS
HELEN LEWIS ASKS WHETHER DEVOLUTION IS
REALLY SO GREAT
NEW STATESMAN LEADER: AFTER THE REFERENDUM
JEREMY BOWEN REPORTS FROM DAMASCUS
ON ASSAD AND ISIS
GEORGE EATON: BRITAIN’S FOREIGN POLICY SHOWS CAMERON’S FLAWS
MEHDI HASAN: THE FIRST “WAR ON TERROR” WAS A FAILURE.
DO WE REALLY NEED A SEQUEL?
ERICA WAGNER VISITS NORWAY TO DISCOVER WHAT IBSEN CAN
TELL US ABOUT 21ST-CENTURY LIFE
STEVE RICHARDS COMPARES LABOUR’S TRIUMPHALISM IN 1996
WITH THE MOOD TODAY
FRANCIS BECKETT ON THE RISE AND FALL OF NEIL KINNOCK,
THE MAN WHO SAVED LABOUR
SOPHIE McBAIN MEETS THE SCIENTISTS AND TECH ENTREPRENEURS
PREPARING FOR THE APOCALYPSE
STEVEN POOLE FINDS NAOMI KLEIN’S BOOK ON CLIMATE CHANGE
VEERS INTO MUMBO-JUMBO
MARTIN ROWSON: THE CARTOONIST TAKES A SATIRICAL SWIPE AT THE COALITION’S PROGRESS
ANDREW MARR’S DIARY: WHY I’M TORN OVER SCOTLAND, THE PLEASURES OF GETTING FATTER, AND AN AUDIENCE AT No 10
The Scottish broadcaster, journalist and (now) novelist Andrew Marr writes the NS Diary this week, reflecting on the Scottish independence referendum, bloggers, the tattooed troops of the Orange Order and the Downing Street party that launched his debut novel, Head of State.
“I find myself horribly torn,” Marr writes:
What’s happening is essentially a gentle revolution against the British state, directed and circumscribed through the ballot box. Up in Scotland, virtually all my friends are Yes voters, hugely excited about real change. Virtually all my family are iron-clad Nos, deeply upset by the demise of the country they grew up in.
Of course I don’t have a vote; and that’s one area where I am in 100 per cent agreement with the Scottish government. It’s true that the franchise means many people who have settled in Scotland only months ago can vote, while people like me, with only Scots in my family tree (with one French exception) going back for centuries, can’t vote. But what’s the alternative, pray? Digging back through the DNA, talking about who’s racially Scottish? Naw, thanks.
Much has been made of the intimidating tactics used by Yes supporters over the course of the campaign – but nobody has made mention of the “absolutely terrifying” presence of the Orangemen backing the No campaign, who filled Waverley Station when Marr arrived in Edinburgh to interview Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling last week.
Later on, before our interviews, we asked the two politicians to toss a coin to decide who would go first. I used a fat, gold-coloured “five-ryal” coin, part of a set produced by the International Numismatic Agency as a potential currency for an independent Scotland. Salmond, who has his own set as a keepsake, tossed the coin. He announced he’d lost even before he could see how it had landed, and graciously asked Darling whether he wanted to go first or second. As a tiny piece of political theatre, symbolising bland self-confidence, it was very clever.
After a Guardian journalist refers to him in print as “stocky”, Marr reflects that a daily “meditative pint of IPA” and “the haggis-and-black-pudding breakfasts in Edinburgh, are beginning to tell”. All the same, he is “calmer, and certainly happier, as a result” – even as the reviews for his novel, “some of them . . . keen, others rather less so”, pour in. Finally, he describes a party held at 10 Downing Street on 16 September to celebrate the launch of the book:
A good chunk of the cabinet, plus senior Labour people, turned up at Downing Street on Tuesday night to support the stroke charity that has done a huge amount for me – Action for Rehabilitation from Neurological Injury (Arni). The acronym works because it’s based on hard training – lots of kettle bells, and so on – and members of the Arni team were very visible in the throng. They were mostly genial, tough-looking and thickset men walking with a slight limp.
The Prime Minister had no visible limp. He did look a bit hot but he’d just been for a run. Michael Gove, who as Chief Whip has the PM’s fate in his hands, was watching from the back. Even now, most people I spoke to believe the referendum result will be a No and the main political problem will be placating English Tory MPs angry about Scottish concessions. The previous night, I’d spoken to a very senior parliamentarian about plans for a new federal Britain. There are no plans. “We simply haven’t considered the possibility of the Scots voting to go,” I was told. Hmm. As of Wednesday morning, this feels, to put it gently, unwise.
JEREMY BOWEN – SYRIA NOTEBOOK: BASHAR AL-ASSAD’S MEN AND THE REBELS AGREE ON ONE THING: ISLAMIC STATE IS A DANGER TO THEM ALL
Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, travels to Syria, where he considers the recent observation by Pope Francis that, “even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third world war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction”. The notion that we are in a continual state of war feels plausible. As Bowen notes: “In recent times I have reported from Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad and Gaza. Everywhere was at war.”
He then describes the situation in Damascus:
Damascus is always a little surreal. Most of the city functions and is not damaged. Lives have been transformed, broken and ended by the war, but the shops are open and yellow taxis cram the streets. The sounds of war are so familiar that most people no longer look up when they hear a military jet screaming its way towards another air strike on the rebels in the suburbs.
But if you go to the edge of the area held by the regime, you can see the damage, and in places it is colossal. Block after block has been flattened. Sometimes we are able to cross over into rebel-held territory. Most of the civilians have gone. Streets are piled high with rubble. Buildings are so tattered by shelling that they could be made of paper. In recent weeks Syrian government troops have been on the offensive, trying to take back suburbs that have been held by armed rebels since they began appearing openly on the streets some time around the New Year of 2012. The rebels are hitting back. As I’ve been writing this, four rockets came in near our hotel, which is also the main UN headquarters.
And the anti-Assad Syrian rebels have fears about Islamic State:
Many of the armed men I have met who are fighting the regime around Damascus have some of the trappings of Islamist fighters – headbands with extracts from the Quran, beards, and so on – but they have all been Syrians, not foreigners, and they have said that they want an Islamic state on the lines of Turkey, not Arabia 1,400 years ago. A commander I met on my last trip across the lines said that if Islamic State came to Damascus the IS fighters would want to kill them all.
The Syrian end of the war that began as an uprising by demonstrators is a tangled, deadly mess of rivalries and alliances. The danger is that the international response to IS led by the United States will graft another layer of war on to the conflicts that already exist:
The Paris conference on 15 September was designed to add legitimacy to an American-led campaign by enlisting Sunni Muslim countries. British officials who have been giving anonymous quotes to newspapers expressed a hope that the Saudis, or the Emiratis, might even use some of the warplanes they have bought at huge expense from Britain and America to help with the bombing.
Even if they did that, and I think they will be very reluctant, raids would be no less of a recruiting sergeant for the jihadists. Military force is part of the answer against men as murderous as the foot soldiers of Islamic State. But so is making them look less attractive to disaffected and alienated youths. One way to do this might be by working much harder to end those parts of the war in Syria that do not include IS. Enemies here agree that the group is a danger to them all. So get them all talking about ways to stop IS. Some co-operation on the battlefield might even lead to other kinds of deals.
JASON COWLEY – EDITOR’S NOTE: EDINBURGH REACHES FEVER PITCH, SALMOND’S “CONTINUITY CHANGE”, AND NICK ROBINSON SMELLS ANXIETY
Jason Cowley, the editor of the New Statesman, writes from Edinburgh, where the atmosphere is “febrile; there is an imminent sense of an ending – of the end of the long campaign, of the end even of the United Kingdom”. He is reminded of Alex Salmond’s reassurance strategy for Scottish voters, which can be summed up as “continuity in change”, and of how Giuseppe di Lampedusa wrote in The Leopard, his acclaimed, melancholic novel about the decline of an aristocratic Sicilian family and the unification of Italy: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
When I visited Alistair Darling at the Better Together offices in Glasgow in June, I asked him what a good result would be. “A good result in September is one that puts the matter [of independence] to bed for a generation,” he said. I pushed him to elaborate: would less than 40 per cent voting Yes be convincing enough? “I’ll tell you when I see it. What you want people to say is we’ve had our referendum and we’ve made our decision. We need a good turnout . . .”
Darling will get his good turnout – it was wonderful that nearly 4.3 million people in Scotland registered to vote, 97 per cent of all those eligible – but surely not the resounding victory he and his allies expected only a few weeks ago. Yet however close the final result, Scotland has experienced something remarkable and precious during these summer months: a democratic awakening that has shaken the very foundations of the British state. If we want things in Britain to stay as they are, things will have to change.
GEORGE EATON: THE POLITICS COLUMN
“It is just 13 months since David Cameron become the first prime minister to lose a vote on a matter of peace and war since 1782,” begins George Eaton, the political editor of the New Statesman, in his column this week. Many have seen that vote, in August last year, as an epochal shift comparable to Suez; the former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown lamented the move as a lurch “towards isolationism”.
And now it seems hard to believe that, once again, the UK is facing the possibility of military action against the jihadists of Islamic State.
Some of the 30 Tory MPs who voted against intervention in Syria are prepared publicly to support military action against Islamic State. One of the rebels, Sarah Wollaston, tells me: “Last time round, we didn’t have Arab League backing and we do this time. The intervention has to be led by local and regional powers; otherwise, it’s just seen as a vendetta against Muslims.” But most Tory rebels remain unmoved. John Redwood, who abstained on the government motion last year, bluntly says: “I am not persuaded that we should be bombing Iraq or Syria.”
It is Labour that will determine whether Cameron becomes the fourth successive prime minister to preside over military action in Mesopotamia. After thwarting the PM last summer, in what the Tories denounced as an act of betrayal (Labour sources maintain that no “blank cheque” was ever signed), the opposition is regarded with suspicion and enmity. But there is as yet no evidence that the two parties’ positions will diverge.
The NS critic at large Mark Lawson explores major new exhibitions of work by Turner and Constable
Letter from Kinshasa: Michael Barrett wonders how countries should memorialise their colonial past
Philip Maughan discovers “the plumbers of the internet”
Ryan Gilbey: If only the lads of The Riot Club were a little less revolting
Melissa Benn reviews Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times and
Jad Adams’s Women and the Vote
Will Self: There’s a duck leg to settle the queasiest stomach,
40 floors above the heaving city
Antonia Quirke: How our nation got addicted to painkillers – me included
Adam Tomkins: The No campaign made all the wrong arguments
Ed Smith on the abuse of the cricketer Moeen Ali
Commons Confidential: Kevin Maguire shares the latest gossip from Westminster